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Colleges

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Underdog? Giant-killer Cards say yes

– Louisville has really relished being the underdog. So much so that coach Jeff Walz doesn’t want to hear about how the Cardinals have that team-of-destiny air about them heading into the women’s Final Four.

Yet, is there any other way to see Louisville after it derailed AP player of the year Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor, and then upset Tennessee – the most storied program in the sport?

Surely the Cardinals couldn’t be the underdogs against Final Four newcomer California in tonight’s national semifinals. Don’t tell that to Walz.

“No one expects us to win now,” Walz said. “I’m sorry, we’re seeded fifth. So my thing is, I know we won two games, but we’re seeded fifth, and if they expected us to win, we’d be seeded second or third.”

California, Walz noted, “is a team that’s 32-3, that beat Stanford. ... They’re a great basketball team, so we’re going to have to figure out a way.”

And while destiny may be on Louisville’s side, history is not. No team seeded lower than fourth has ever won a national semifinal game.

The Golden Bears were the No. 2 seed in the Spokane region and did not have to play their Pac-12 rivals, top-seeded Stanford, in the NCAA tournament. Georgia took care of the Cardinal in the regional semifinal. The Bulldogs also led Cal late in regulation before the Bears stormed back to force overtime and pull out a three-point victory.

Neither Cal nor Louisville were widely expected to make it this far.

Now, Louisville or Cal will have a spot in the national championship game against either Connecticut (33-4) or Notre Dame (35-1).

“I definitely agree that a lot has to go right in order to get to this point, but I also think there’s a huge impact that our players have in making things go right,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “The teams that were in front of us at each stage were really formidable and we had to get the job done.”

To beat Louisville, Cal may have to adopt the kind of physical, Big East defensive play that can disrupt an opponent’s shooting rhythm. The Cardinals have been shooting 50 percent in the tournament, and they upset Baylor simply by outscoring them, 82-81, on the strength of 16 made threes on 25 attempts (64 percent).

“Instead of worrying about how we guarded Brittney (Griner) ... maybe everybody should start asking how do we score 82, because there’s not been one team in the four years that Brittney Griner was at Baylor that scored more than 82 points,” Walz said.

That is what Gottlieb has been trying to figure out.

“We care about what they’re running and how they’re getting those open looks,” Gottlieb said. “And, yeah, sure, I’m cognizant of the fact they’re hot. And why are they hot? And what do we need to cool that down? We talk to our players about that, but it becomes more about specifics of how we want to defend them or what they’ve been doing well and not.”

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